Why was the study done?
Public safety personnel (PSP), due to the nature of their work, are regularly exposed to potentially psychologically traumatic events (PPTE). The exposure can lead to a greater risk of developing mental health problems. Little attention has been paid to identifying potential protective factors or characteristics, like resilience, at the time of PSP recruitment.
The goals of the current study are:
- to determine how PSP view their colleagues with a focus on understanding what makes someone deemed “fit” vs. “unfit” for a PSP occupation;
- to determine PSP views on addressing critical incidents separately from regular job duties in terms of their mental health and well-being.
What was done in the study?
The data used in the current study was from a large, web-based, self-report survey that examined many aspects of PSP work and mental health. For the study, responses to one open-ended question were reviewed: “If you have any additional information you would like to provide or additional feedback, please feel free to do so below.” Responses from 828 participants were analyzed and coded into emergent themes.
What did we find out?
- One overarching theme participants mentioned regarding hiring was the concern that there was too great a focus on “political correctness” in hiring instead of meeting needs. For example, hiring oriented towards serving institutional mandates or government requirements instead of the team’s needs.
- Participants deemed colleagues “fit” if they had good stress management skills and could manage PPTE exposures. The idea of being considered “fit” also related to a potential PSP understanding of what a PSP job entails and what they can expect to encounter on the job. PPTE exposure is inevitable, and potential recruits should be made aware of this fact.
- Those not capable of handling stress and PPTE would be “unfit.” The suggestion of being “unfit” if one couldn’t handle PPTE was common and might reflect some of the stigma that still surrounds PSP mental health.
- Participants suggested that hiring practices should be altered to ensure new PSP were job-ready. Suggested changes include hiring the most qualified candidates, more rigorous hiring processes where both physical and mental attributes are considered, and ensuring recruits clearly understand job expectations so applicants and new hires understand the realities of PSP work.
- Some participants also expressed attitudes that show stigma still exists against those seeking help. These participants believe that there was a level of PPTE that “fit” PSP should be able to handle and that only critical incidents should impact mental health.
Where do we go from here?
There are limitations to the study, including the self-selected survey sample. However, it is clear that the PSP who participated believe there need to be changes made at the hiring stage to ensure that future PSP are ready for the job’s stresses. While the idea of mental health pre-screening was suggested by the participants, the study’s authors caution that pre-screening done without evidence-based methods could lead to unfair and discriminatory practices. Additional education during training about the stress of the job and mental health might help reduce stigma, improve mental health, and lead to PSP that feel more “fit” to serve.
The original wording of the study was changed and condensed for the current research summary.
Ricciardelli, R., Andres, E., Kaur, N., Czarnuch, S., & Carleton, R. N. (2020). Fit for public safety: Informing attitudes and practices tied to the hiring of public safety personnel. Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health Vol 35 (1), 14-36. https://doi.org/10.1080/15555240.2019.1664306
Summary prepared by Kossick, E. Reviewed & Edited by Barootes, B. & Ricciardelli, R.